Ballot box revolt: It’s the power the people have to use

I’ll issue one more caveat about liking the heck out of Karl Rove.  I think his expertise is not as applicable as it has sometimes been to the predicament voters find themselves in this year.  But I don’t accuse Rove of being what we used to call – with a sneer – a “Rockefeller Republican.”


Probably the most dissonant point he made in the past week is the one about Republican “strategy.”  Along with many others, I thought, before the Tuesday primary, that Delaware voters would follow a conventional route and approve Mike Castle.  Even though he’s a RINO, he has looked more likely than Christine O’Donnell to beat Democrat Chris Coons.

But Rove didn’t just expect them to do that:  he wanted them to do that.  The RNC was urging voters to do that.  From the perspective of electoral strategists, strategic voting is a sound practice that voters need to be sold on.  Vote for a RINO to get a Senate majority – that’s their plan.

And it’s a perfectly logical one if the objective is to get a Republican majority in the Senate.  But that wasn’t the objective of the Delaware voters when they went to the polls on Tuesday.  Their objective was to vote for the platform they want, and not for the continuation of the platform that has produced our current conditions.  They were less concerned with positioning the GOP for a Senate majority than with registering what they want to hear from a candidate, and the direction they want our lawmaking to go.

What Rove and those in the GOP leadership need to understand is that a citizen’s vote is the main tool he has to express himself politically.  There comes a time when he has to use it for his own purposes, rather than as someone else’s tactical tire-tool; and 2010 is one of those times.


I can’t count how often this year I’ve heard the following expressed one way or another:  “Things have got to change.  I don’t even care if I’m voting for the candidate who supposedly can win.  I’ve got to vote for the candidate who’s saying what I believe in, and let the rest take care of itself.  We can’t keep voting for the same old people.  Maybe it’ll take some time to get some leadership for a new direction, but it will never happen if we keep bringing back all the folks who got us into this mess.”

There is wisdom in this.  The conservative right has a number of people in political leadership who have good ideas and real promise, even though none are looking dominant in the presidential category today.  I don’t think that’s really a problem.  Republicans – in fact, conservatives as a whole – have to unite around a core set of governing principles before a single national leader will emerge.

I think many high-information voters see things this way: if we can retake the House and achieve a blocking minority in the Senate – both of which are increasingly probable, even if O’Donnell loses in Delaware – Congress can act as a check on Obama until January 2013.

On the other hand, a RINO-heavy Congressional majority would be likely to set Obama’s course in stone – e.g., with only marginal changes to Obamacare, with some version of amnesty and some version of cap-and-trade – and actually make the Obama agenda harder to decouple from down the road.


The Republicans who would take over as a majority in 2011 just aren’t convincing to a lot of voters.  The voters aren’t stupid; they’re using their votes for their own purposes.  It’s not a knock on Karl Rove that his electoral advice has been overruled.  It’s a signal that something much bigger is going on, and the rules have gone out the window.  Expertise with running campaigns is secondary right now.  In first place is a candidate’s message – and the people are listening with a very critical ear.  They’ve left their party’s, and nation’s, direction on autopilot for a long time now, but they’re no longer willing to.  Their vote is the one thing they have direct, personal control over, and they’re using it to do what they want to do.

Cross-posted at The Optimistic Conservative.

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